The Trans-Pacific Partnership was once seen as a way for a dozen countries centered around the powerful membership of the United States to reduce tariffs and foster trade.
That was before candidate Donald Trump called the TPP, "a continuing rape of our country," and, as president, pulled the United States out of the agreement. Now that the other countries are going forward with the pact, American influence around the Pacific could be on the line.
During negotiations Friday in Da Nang, Vietnam, the 11 remaining countries agreed on a series of core elements of the trade deal, although details continue to be negotiated. Reports originally indicated talks would be postponed after Canada backed out of negotiations, but it rejoined after other countries agreed to stricter labor and environmental protections.
Now known as "TPP-11," the proposed deal would have a much more limited scope in its effect on the world economy. With the United States, the original agreement would have encompassed 38.2 percent of global GDP. The 11 remaining countries generate 13.5 percent of global GDP.
Even so, the TPP 11 would represent a change in the geopolitical landscape. The international consensus since the mid-20th century has been to reduce barriers to trade, a consensus primarily driven by the US.
"Without the United States in the TPP," Dan Ikenson, director of trade policy studies at the Cato Institute, told Reason in an e-mail, "and no real promise of new trade agreements for the next few years, the economic center of gravity will continue shifting across the Pacific. I think it's better for the world (including the United States) that TPP-11 proceeds because the United States is no longer a reliable champion of liberalizing trade through the adoption of sound rules."
Like all trade agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership wasn't really free trade but managed trade. Free trade in the ideal sense wouldn't require an agreement 5,500 pages long, subject to the demands of special interests and international institutions. To be sure, there's no obligation for America to participate in a multi-lateral trade deal merely because several other countries are participating. Still, without American influence, everyone could end up worse off—particularly Americans—and the United States' role in the region may wane.
"It's a huge missed opportunity for American businesses and consumers," said Clark Packard, federal affairs manager and policy counsel for the R Street Institute.
According to a 2016 report from the International Trade Commission, both agriculture and beef stood to gain substantially from TPP, as did services sector of the American economy, though the study also claimed the deal would hurt manufacturing by a small amount.
"Despite all of the misleading rhetoric about it, TPP was a good agreement. Hopefully we'll eventually come to our senses and rejoin," Packard told Reason. "The world will move on, even if we're stuck in neutral."